Audio: Social Struggles in South Africa

Thu, 11/12/2009 – AndrewNFlood

Listen to the audio file on Indymedia Ireland

We recently hosted Jonathan of the South African Zabalaza Anarchist Communist Front (ZACF) in Dublin. He was doing a speaking tour of Ireland and Britain on the subject of ‘After Apartheid: Social struggle in South Africa’. I’ve just uploaded the audio of his Dublin talk, its linked below. Jonathan is another person I’ve ‘known’ online for quite a long period so it was good to meet him IRL at the London anarchist bookfair which provided the first date for his talk.

The opening section of the talk looks at the very recent repression of the shack dwellers movement, Abahlali baseMjondolo at the Kennedy road informal settlement. Several people were killed and over 1000 displaced when an ANC led gang targetted the settlement and a meeting that was in progess there. The rough notes I provide below will give you some idea of the areas covered in the audio file., they include a quite detailed history of the South African left.

The Dublin meeting was a bank holiday Monday so we were quite nervous about no one showing up for it. On the night though it was fine, somewhere over 40 people came including a couple of South Africans and people who had been involved in the anti-apartheid solidarity movement in Ireland. This made for quite a good questions and answer phase, unfortuantely the audio recording of this was quite weak so I’m not sure if I’ll manage to improve that enough to get it online. If I do I’ll add it in the next days. I understand the Cork meeting also went well.

Jonathan stayed with us and the day of the meeting Finbarr and myself walked around the Viking & medieval sites of the city centre. Finbarr’s into the history of that period so was pointing our features I’d never noticed (e.g. on the hill behind Christ Church Cathedral they have marked out the outline plans of the houses that were on the site in the cobblestones). I threw in some fragments on the 1916 insurrection and we ended at the GPO. We’d also had quite a number of interesting conversations with Jonathan on his experiences of organising in South Africa and the anarchist movement in Southern Africa much of which is semi-underground as it operates under conditions of dictatorship.

The notes below are a very rough guide to what is being talked about; they are not a transcript and may skip over significant sections

Introduction – Johnny

Zabalaza formed 1st May 2003 from various organizations. After apartheid the ANC focused on courting big business and ignoring the needs of the working class.

Two points to the talk

  1. Dispel illusions that exist around liberation
  2. Drum up support for social struggles

Group of 30 or 40 armed men attacked Kennedy Road informal settlement and destroyed shacks of the Abahlali shack dwellers movement. Police refused to intervene. Gang of armed men attacked the meeting killing 3 with more dying later, a couple of attackers also killed. Next day the police arrested members of the KR development committee, 5-7 more arrested over the following days. All denied bail. Attack orchestrated by local members of ANC branch, it’s not known at what level the police were involved in the attack. The attacks recall the state sponsored terror of the 1980’s.

To set the context I’m going to got back 100 years in radical South African history to the early syndicalist and anarcho-syndicalist history if the 1880’s. Established the first multi racial organizations like the Industrial Workers of Africa (modeled on the IWW). The first Community party formed in 1920 was extra parliamentary and internationalist, the first Moscow aligned CP set up following years. The CP aligned itself with the ANC and was bigger for a good number of years, the CP was following the two stage theory of national democratic revolution.

Mandela said in 56 that the aim of the ANC was to create a black bourgeoisie. During the 70’s and 80’s there was a massive escalation in workers and student militancy against apartheid, the ANC had virtually no influenced in these popular struggles of the black working class.

The unions through COSATU came to accept the two stages theory. Mass insurrections began in 1984 again with little ANC influence but this changed by the end of the 1990’s as the ANC gained control of the United Democratic Front. Prior to this you had a huge and militant working class involved in strikes alongside the militant student and community movement.

The boom of the 1980’s was based on the super exploitation of the black working class in mining but sanction mean it was losing access to international markets and there wasn’t an internal market due to the super exploitation. This economic decline along with the insurrectionary workers movement led the white capitalist class to enter into negotiations leading to the end of apartheid.

Secret negotiations ran from the 1980’s and by 1993 the ANC signed an agreement with the IMF leading to its election in 1994 in the first democratic election. Its economic policies were continuous with those of the old Botha regime. They had promised one million jobs but in the first ten years a million lost their jobs. The first big strike was in 1999 of municipal workers and the Anti-Privatization Forum was launched at Wits University. In 2001 the APF was a federation of community organizations, single issue social movement and campaigns fighting against privatization, evictions etc. There was a struggle against electricity cuts off as the state tried to collect outstanding bills from the apartheid issue bill strike. Battles were won but the campaigns went into decline afterwards. Another significant struggle was that against water meters.

State has tried to break backbone of New Social Movements by using apartheid era legislations against gatherings of more than 15 people. Part of the strategy is to break the social movements financially by making arrests and forcing them to raise lots of bail, activists have also been tear gassed in police cells. Police Community Forums are used to spy on social movement activists.

Zuma as elected this year, he is a conservative, openly homophobic Zulu nationalist. There have been attacks on immigrants and gays and lesbians and moves to sweep back progressive gains. Legitimate discontent is being re-directed against scapegoats leading to rampages against immigrants with 60 people being killed and 100’s of thousands fleeing the country.

The Shack Dwellers Movement predicted that these attacks against immigrants would be followed by internal ethnic conflict which is what happened on Kennedy Road. They implemented a 10pm curfew on Sheeben’s to avoid ethnic conflict.

For next years FIFA world cup the government is clearing the city centers of ‘undesirables’ as part of a program of gentrification, Abahlali were mobilizing against this which is part of the reason they were targeted. There is a grave danger to social movements and working class organization.

The recession has hit South Africa hard providing an excuse for Zuma’s failure to deliver on his promises. Community based revolts and strikes have escalated in the last couple of months but they tend to challenge corrupt councilors rather than the economic policies.


Social struggles in South Africa can be listened to on Indymedia Ireland here